DSLR cameras outsold compact cameras for the first time, still outselling mirrorless

April 4, 2018

There is this divide among photography enthusiasts, where online warriors place themselves into 2 camps: The mentally unbalanced people who are ardently pro mirrorless (usually Sony fans), and everybody else (people who tend to see things as they are - complex). For the past 5-6 years there is a real mirrorless hype mainly driven by Sony fanboys and their artisans (who are some of the most annoying people on the internet, to be honest).

The reality

The reality is that whether it's mirrorless or DSLR, the whole camera market of interchangeable lenses is shrinking every year for several years now due to advancements and the conveniences of smartphones. The shrinking will stop eventually, that's for sure, but I think it will become a very niche market. Right now it seems that DSLRs are here to stay for many years, because Canon and Nikon haven't made any aggressive movements into replacing their current offerings with mirrorless alternatives. And why should they? Mirrorless technology is not yet mature. The lens selection of all mirrorless manufacturers pales in comparison to Canon's and Nikon's hundreds of lenses and the history of millions of sold lenses in the past. In addition, cameras like Sony Alpha are notoriously unreliable, and Sony often replaces their models within a few months (durability is not one of their priority, but that's no wonder, since they're a throw-away consumer goods brand, not a photography brand). Mirrorless cameras have never outsold DSRLs, nor compact cameras, so the hype is completely bogus. There's also very few solid indicators, that they will in the future. Let us look into the numbers.

Here is an overview of the shipments of digital cameras based on CIPA numbers (publicly accessible to everyone, feel free to cross-check). I went back to 2013 when some of the best mirrorless and DSLR cameras were made and crunched the numbers until February 2018:

If you're not a numberphile, you can look into this corresponding chart: Blue color is shipped compacts, green color is shipped DSLRs, and yellow color is shipped mirrorless cameras. The shrinkage of compacts over the year is dramatic, they are the first victims of the ever evolving smartphone cameras. When it comes to DSLR, there is a drop as well, about 50%, most likely affecting entry level DSLRs who succumbed to the same smartphone advancements. Mirrorless cameras are on average more expensive, and compete in the segment above 1000 USD, so their drop is smaller, nevertheless, they're dropping, too.

DSLRs became the leading category

If we look into the share of shipped cameras by camera type (Compact, SLR, Mirrorless), we observe a trend where for the first time in history DSLR cameras have become the most shipped cameras of any type of camera (in Feb 2018, source), overtaking compacts which used to be way ahead just a couple of months ago. Let's have a look at the numbers from September 2017 til February 2018:

But that's not the whole story. Let us look at DSLR and mirrorless sales individually over the past years and observe some trends.

There is a clear trend downwards with DSLRs, especially from 2014 to 2013. From 2014 until 2018 the drop has become smaller every year. Despite the drop, DSLRs still outsell mirrorless on average at a 2:1 pace. Let's look at mirrorless sales over the years:

Mirrorless had a very strong year in 2017, in fact it was their record year (shipped 4.079 million units). With that said, it was still way behind DSLR shipments that year (7.596 million units), which had around 65% of all interchangeable-lens camera shipments, while mirrorless were around 35%.


The discussion about which one is better, mirrorless or DSLR, is a moronic discussion, that is mainly driven by Sony fanboys. These people love to spend their time arguing on forums on topics like whether a mirror in a camera defines its value, or the skill of the person who purchases the camera, instead of going out and taking photos. I partly blame Sony for this with their tricky marketing methods. Fact is, if we're looking at the two months of 2018, it looks very bleak for mirrorless shipments, same as it does for DSLRs. The total accessible market for interchangeable cameras is going down again this year. Compact camera shipments are declining even more rapidly. Will the second half of the year change this trend? I'm a skeptic. So the pie is shrinking, and most likely the average selling price and profit margins are rising, because the battle has moved to upper tiers of consumer cameras and professional cameras. I'm also sure the shipments of medium format cameras is on the rise (Fuji confirmed that for their GFX series), that's because consumers are falling for fancy marketing, and are buying photography gear that they actually don't need, but they have money, and an empty life in need to fill with something. It's a sad state of affairs, to be honest. Photography is a great hobby, arguing about which system or camera brand is "winning" totally misses the point. It's all about the image. Most cameras today are amazing, even the compacts and entry level DSLRs.

Related: List of Top 100 photography Youtube channels of 2018

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